Students in Howard Kimewon’s Ojibwe language class at the University of Massachusetts Amherst floated around Puffer’s Pond May 2 in what is believed to be the first birchbark canoe to sail locally in 300 years.

This is not Kimewon’s first canoe build. The native Anishinaabemowin speaker and guest lecturer at UMass, has built seven in his lifetime, but this one he built with the help of students studying indigenous foodways, plant medicines, and anthropology. The skin and ribs of the canoe are white birch, it is bound by brasswood fibers, and its seats are white ash, according to a university press release.

Painted by local artist Gina Siepel, the canoe’s insignia evokes the peregrine falcons of Du Bois Library. (University of Massachusetts Amherst)
Painted by local artist Gina Siepel, the canoe’s insignia evokes the peregrine falcons of Du Bois Library. (University of Massachusetts Amherst)

“Immersion in a canoe-building project is an innovative way to highlight the importance of water in the Anishinaabe language and culture indigenous to the Great Lakes region,” says the release. “For instance, in Anishinaabemowin, notkwemahza is a verb that means ‘he or she passes by in a canoe, singing a love song to [their] sweetheart’—one word that all by itself manages to convey motion, presence in a vehicle, two actions, mood, and a subject-object relationship.”

Students in Howard Kimewon’s Ojibwe language class take the birchbark canoe on its maiden voyage. (University of Massachusetts Amherst)
Students in Howard Kimewon’s Ojibwe language class take the birchbark canoe on its maiden voyage. (University of Massachusetts Amherst)

“It’s very deep, if you stop to think about it—this representation of the Native people, the first people that were on this land, and for the university to welcome his [Howard Kimewon] teachings and his wisdom, it’s just been incredible,” says Elaine Kenseth in a video about the canoe launch.

To watch the video on Indian Country Today’s website, click here.

Here is an article on an ANA grant for language preservation.

Young children in the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa tribe will soon have more opportunities to learn their native Ojibwe tongue from tribal elders as part of a language preservation grant from HHS’ Administration for Children and Families (ACF).

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The grant allows the Red Cliff Early Childhood Center Head Start Program to hire a language instructor and assistant to work with children in their three Head Start classrooms. In addition, they will work with the Bayfield School District as they plan an Ojibwe Language Immersion Charter School for fall 2015.